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TRANSCRIPT: press conference on poker machine reform

Christine Milne 29 Nov 2012

Christine Milne, Adam Bandt and Richard Di Natale commented on the poker machine reform passed in the House of Representatives today.


Subjects: poker machine reform

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well never has so much been promised and hoped for, and so little delivered as on the poker machine legislation, which has just gone through the Parliament. Cast your mind back to the last election. People around Australia were saying to the Federal Government it's time to intervene. Powerful companies are making a great deal of money out of the misery of communities, of families around Australia through the poker machine industry and the clubs. And people were saying it's time for the Federal Government to intervene, this misery cannot go on, we have to deal with it. And such was the level of concern that at the same time after the  election two committees were set up - one was the Multi-Party Climate Committee, the other was the committee on poker machine reform. And now we've got the outcome. With a Multi-Party Climate Committee we've got a comprehensive set of legislation which is regarded as a leadership model globally, and on poker machine reform we have got a tiny step forward. And only a tiny step because of the power of these companies that trade in human misery and the power of those companies around the halls of this Parliament. They have been everywhere, insisting to backbenchers that this will damage them in their electorate if the poker machine industry is in any shape or form curtailed. The club industry, these companies have enormous power. And you only have to look at the influence of the Independents in this undermining the strength of what could have been achieved. The Greens were prepared to stand firm throughout to get good reform, to help people to get rid of this scourge in our community, and yet it was Tony Windsor who caved in to the power of these companies that trade in human misery. It is a step in the right direction but it's a tiny step, it's nowhere near what could have been achieved if people had stood up for the community against the power of these companies and if anyone is in any doubt that, today in the ACT the Liberal and Labor parties got together to increase the amount of money people can take from ATMs to access these gambling machines.

Just as we are trying to do something to improve things for the community, Liberal and Labor are getting together there to make life even more miserable for people addicted to poker machines and to the gambling. This has got to be addressed in Australia. It's a start but it's very disappointing that the power of this industry is such that it has taken parliamentarians essentially and put their hands behind their backs and not done the right thing by the community.

RICHARD DI NATALE: Today should have all been about strengthening what was a weak piece of legislation, that's what we should have been doing in the Parliament today. In the end we were in the Parliament trying to save what was a very weak piece of legislation. It's one of the reasons that people have lost faith in the political leadership in this country. We saw a situation where this hugely cashed up lobby group in the pokies industry have spent days in the Parliament going through the corridors, in and out of offices, doing everything they can to scuttle what was an already a weak piece of legislation. Just like the tobacco industry, these blokes will say or do anything. Facts don't matter to them, what matters is profits above the needs of the most vulnerable people in the Australian community. And so rather than going in there to try to strengthen this legislation, and that's what the Greens went into the Parliament to do today, we've ended up having to fight a rear guard action to save this bill. We saw the Government where I'll  acknowledge members of the Government have been fighting hard to try to improve this legislation, but again they have been fighting huge division within their own party where the New South Wales Right, the factions have been in cahoots with the pokies industry and they have worked very, very hard to try to undermine this legislation. It's no wonder people have lost faith in their political leadership, the role of the Independents, as Senator Milne said, very disappointing, I was very disappointed to see Tony Windsor for example give a two-year extension to venues on these machines, that means we have to wait, families have to wait, we're talking about kids who can't be fed at night because their folks have got a problem with the pokies, they going to have to wait another two years before those venues have machines which are mandatory pre-commitment ready. That's a bad outcome.

In the end we supported the bill. We supported it because, as Senator Milne said, it's a small step forward, but we've got long way to go. I take some comfort in the fact that the pokies industry fought very, very hard to scuttle it, that says something about the bill, it means that we're heading in the right direction, but a lot more needs to be done, and people in this place have got to make a call -they've got to decide if they're standing up for big business, for these hugely cashed up lobby groups, or for the ordinary person who can't get access to Parliament, who can't walk the corridors, and whose lives have been shattered because they have a problem with poker machines.

ADAM BANDT: What I've seen over the last few days in the House of Representatives turns my stomach. We started this week with a piece of legislation that went nowhere near far enough to tackle problem gambling in this country and to try and reign in an industry that makes billions out of the misery of people around this country. Then the poker machine industry vultures came to this Parliament and patrolled the corridors for 24 hours a day pressuring members of Parliament, and they were working in cahoots with senior factional powerbrokers within the Labor Party. Half of the Labor Party aided and abetted the poker machine vultures in watering down this legislation over the last few days. I had people tell me that there was a possibility of Labor Party members not even turning up for the vote, people being told they were threatened with their seats being lost, it was very much a case of big money versus democracy, and unfortunately we found that big money still have some sway in this place, and we have managed to save the bill and it will bring some measure of comfort to families who are struggling as we head towards Christmas with problem gambling and the impacts that that has, but it's a reminder that you can only trust the Greens to stand up to big business and you can't trust anyone else in this place to do the same because it is it just takes a day or so of lobbying and threats from the pokies industry and people change what were long held positions and I think for the health of our democracy that's a worrying development but I'm prouder today than any time  I've been in this Parliament to be a Greens representative in the Lower House who will stand up for the interests of ordinary people against the power of big business and factional powerbrokers.

JOURNALIST: Was the Prime Minister involved in any of these negotiations or did she stay at arm's-length in terms of the extension, what factions were doing etc.?

ADAM BANDT: I don't want to go and betray confidences of meetings that I've had with people, most of the discussions were done with the relevant minister who I think wanted to see some reform take place in this Parliament, but I'm sure there will be some interesting footage of who was talking to who in the House at particular times and you will see that this ultimately came down to a factional issue rather than a leadership issue.

JOURNALIST: Where to now with reform? Do you think it'll stay in the Federal Parliament or is it an issue state by state or big business etc.?

RICHARD DI NATALE: I think firstly the states continue to have an important role here and I really hope that we do see state governments show some leadership here. It's difficult because their income is so intimately tied to this industry to see that this can happen, but we see more Greens in parliament, state parliaments across the country and we hope that we have an opportunity to put more pressure at some time in the future. The important thing here with this piece of legislation for me is that for the first time what we've got is the Federal Government with a role in poker machines regulation. We haven't had that before, it's been exclusively a state issue. So we've now got a stake in this federally, that's a good thing. We had an opportunity to really do something meaningful, we could have had the Greens policy of dollar bet limits in place today and that was something the Australian community would have been celebrating, we're not going to get that. That will be the long-term aim for the Greens. In the Senate I'll be moving an amendment that makes the machines dollar bet ready. But I think it's fair to say what we do need is we need some leadership, this isn't going to happen unless people in this place stand-up, show some courage, recognise the Australian community want this, and say to the big end of town sorry we can stand up to you, we hear your threats and we're ignoring them because this issue is too important and that's what we need to see.

JOURNALIST: Do you think it makes the Productivity Commission pointless if its recommendations are consistently ignored?

RICHARD DI NATALE: In the end what really matters is when people who are elected to represent their electorates and the community as members of Parliament take strong action, that's the only thing that can change the problem we're confronted with, the problem of 40 per cent of revenue from pokies coming from problem gamblers, $5 billion a year, the fact that there are kids going hungry at night because their folks have got a problem, the fact that businesses right around the country have employees that are ripping them off because they're addicted to the pokies.

The Productivity Commission is helpful, the Greens negotiated a National Gambling Research Institute which will make sure that the issue continues to be on the national agenda, but I'm really stick enough to know that in the end we need someone to show some courage, that's what the Australian community wants, that's why they're so fed up with this Parliament. What we're seeing is compromise after compromise, the mining tax, poker machine reform legislation, Murray Darling Basin and so on, what they want are genuine outcomes and they need to show some courage to achieve that.

CHRISTINE MILNE: And follow the money at the 2013 election. See where these companies that are trading in human misery see who they are backing in the next federal election and then you'll have the answer as to the power of the poker machine lobby and where they have spent their money and their effort in undermining what could have been a good news story for the community and rather than that it's a tiny step and those poker machine companies are still making megabucks at the expense of very, very vulnerable communities.

JOURNALIST: Are you worried that if  an Abbott Government is elected they will repeal this legislation?

CHRISTINE MILNE: Well when people think about whether or not they would actually elect an Abbott Government they have to think to themselves what sort of leadership, or what sort of backwardness do they want for the country. Not only has Tony Abbott got a completely unethical position on climate change, where does he stand on taking money from poker machine companies? Let's hear it from Tony Abbott as to where he will get his political donations because that'll answer the question as to what he would do if he ever became Prime Minister.


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